Chicago-based snack manufacturer Benestar Brands forms its business around four core values: safety, quality, customer service and cost. These core values play a major role in its capital investments, specifically safety and quality. At the City of Industry, Calif., facility, for example, collators were installed to improve not only packaging efficiency but also the ergonomics for employees working in that area. Bags stand up so they can be more easily packed in cases with minimal stress on employees. 

“We look for investments that align with our company values. Employee safety is our No. 1 value and No. 2 would be food safety and product quality,” said Dan Robin, chief supply chain officer. “So, for example, an investment we made for employee safety, we added lifts to add the pellets into the hopper. Those boxes are about 70 lbs, and that removed a burden from the employees.”

As far as quality is concerned, the company’s latest investments in a TNA fryer and seasoning control have taken product quality to the next level. 

While the oil Benestar produces at its Chicago facility is filtered before being sent to the City of Industry plant, it is filtered again onsite. 

“This leads to a really high-quality product,” said Jose Gomez, chief technical officer. “It reduces burn spots on the product.” 

The fryer itself uses a heat exchanger rather than direct-fired heat. By recirculating the oil, the temperature of the oil is uniform and stable throughout the length of the fryer. 

“When frying pork rinds, you’ll often see a drop in oil temperature when you add them to the fryer, but we were able to eliminate that entirely with this new fryer during the factory acceptance test (FAT),” Mr. Gomez explained. “With the heat exchanger the oil stays at the set temperature within +/- one degree.”

The consistent oil temperature has other benefits as well. The lack of cold and hot spots throughout the fryer cooks the product more evenly and helps control the free fatty acid content of the pork rinds as oil is turned over more evenly on an hourly basis. This extends the life of the oil and prevents any drop in product volume.

“If it’s 1,800 lbs per hour, we actually are producing 1,800 lbs per hour because it’s that consistent,” Mr. Gomez explained. 

The control the heat exchangers provide for the fryer temperature also enables another level of flexibility. The fryer can handle a wide range of products quickly, which is great since the facility produces every one of the company’s pork rind brands. It also uses less gas. 

“The fryer investment has paid off; this facility has the lowest level of quality complaints from customers in the entire company,” Mr. Robin said. “We get maybe one complaint per 200,000 bags of product, which is approaching world-class levels of quality.”

The tight control of the new fryer is due to the amount of planning that went into designing it. Benestar’s goals with the fryer investment included being able to run two different products, eliminate burnt oil, control free fatty acids, eliminate oil waste, gain more pounds per manpower, and improve washing and energy efficiency. Mr. Gomez said TNA engineers gathered data on the facility’s environment, process and the product when designing the fryer. Between that and the many FAT trials Benestar conducted at TNA’s facility, there weren’t any surprises during install and startup. 

In addition to the fryer, the low-carb claim on Benestar’s 4505 brand requires tight seasoning control. Seasoning is key when taking Benestar’s product quality to the next level, as flavor innovation drives much of snack sales. To meet that need, Benestar invested in high-quality seasoning tumblers. 

“If we want 10% seasoning application, we can control the equipment and get 10% application,” Mr. Robin said.

In addition to investments in new equipment, Benestar Brands has also invested in an ERP system and Power BI, a program that compiles the data from the ERP system and organizes it into reports that refresh every hour. Every day, each plant has directional meetings where the team can use these reports to evaluate whether the plant is hitting its KPI goals and discuss the why behind any areas in which the plant may be falling short. The KPIs mirror the company’s values: safety, quality, delivery and cost. The plants also have weekly meetings with Mr. Robin to evaluate the reports for the week. 

“The reports allow us to look at trends over time in the company at the plant level, department level and for the company as a whole,” Mr. Robin said. “The ability to look at the plant level on a daily and weekly basis is our competitive advantage.” 

This article is an excerpt from the March 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Benestar Brands, click here.